On Sunday night’s (June 27) MasterChef Australia, the stakes were the highest they’ve been as the contestants had to make their way through not one, but two intense elimination cooks.
The first round saw fan-favourite — and recipient of a place back in the competition after second chance week — Minoli De Silva be sent home once more, after using green mango noodles in her Southeast Asian broth.
“What you don’t see is that you actually get so much attentive, detailed feedback from the judges,” De Silva told The Latch after her second elimination. “Obviously, there’s not enough time to air all of it, but every time you cook you get about 15 minutes of feedback.
“You grow so much when you learn to take on critical feedback as a positive.”
The second elimination of the night was Scott Bagnell, whose perfect presentation sadly was not enough to disguise the fact that his fish was a little overcooked and horseradish was not the hero as it was supposed to be.
“I sort of realised that my time was up,” Bagnell told The Latch following his elimination. “I had two elements that had flaws, and I knew Linda’s dish was really good. She just didn’t hero the horseradish, but her panna cotta was perfect. So I kind of knew that time was up.
“And look, I was really happy with how far I got. I never thought I would make the top 10 let alone get into MasterChef so getting that far, I was really happy. And I’m happy that I had a pretty good cook that I went out on. I think my worst nightmare is going out on a train wreck or not getting a dish up.”
Bagnell captured the attention of the audience with his love of nostalgia and penchant for plating up dishes that took us right back to childhood with their retro vibes. It’s a theme that the interior designer still draws inspiration from, while also drawing on his time surrounded by other uber-talented home cooks.
“Being in that kitchen and being exposed to everyone else’s cooking, you learn so much,” he said. “Just learning all the different cuisines and seeing how everyone else cooks… it was actually very intimidating because I went into it thinking that I know a fair bit about food. And then you meet all these other food nerds. And they just know so much as well.”
For Bagnell, who is now channelling his passions into his food blog called Growkery, a very specific challenge that he faced was having to find creativity at the drop of a hat.
“In my day to day job as an interior designer, everyone wants something new and something different and something they haven’t seen before, so that is sort of ingrained in my skill set that I liked bringing to the MasterChef kitchen.
“But you know, the time constraints for me were something that I had a big challenge with because usually I have a lot of creative time and the creative process you can’t just pull out instantly. Sometimes you’re not feeling creative on the day, sometimes you are.”
He continued, “So I’m used to spending a bit more time mulling over things and thinking about ideas. And you just don’t have that in this kitchen. You literally get told the challenge and then you cooking in the next minute. It was crazy.”
For DeSilva, her greatest area of growth came from both the judges and her fellow contestants, with the talented cook saying that she really learned how to cook using flavour rather than the umbrella bracket of different cuisine during her time in the competition.
She is now taking what she learned from MasterChef Australia and is using them in some pretty fantastic ways.
“It’s a celebration of Southeast Asian flavours and dishes, with my take on it — so food that I absolutely love cooking, Sri Lankan food, Thai, Vietnamese, Korean… a revolving menu that utilises local produce, and seasonal produce.”
In addition to that, De Silva is also working closely with the Melaleuca Centre in Darwin — a not for profit organisation that provides a range of specialist services for humanitarian interests and migrants that settle in the Northern Territory.
“They’ve opened up this beautiful courtyard cooking space,” De Silva told The Latch. “And I’m going to be collaborating with them to come up with some really wonderful ideas to highlight food, educate and inspire people and try to get people from different walks talking who normally wouldn’t be talking otherwise. Generally, it’s to provide assistance to survivors of torture and trauma.”
The breast cancer survivor will be undertaking all of these endeavours in tandem with still working as a defence manager, as she says she has learned that she no longer needs to be such a slave to the traditional nine-to-five.
“It doesn’t always have to be that way. You can have different jobs and different projects to satisfy different parts of your creative outlets,” she said. “So I’m still actually doing some work with Oracle — my old company — because it challenges a certain part of my brain, but also doing stuff in food.
“So, you can do whatever you like, and what works for you. That was a cool lesson that I took away from my MasterChef experience.”